What becomes a radio, film and movie legend least? A soulless, charmless, bloated, incredibly mean, bizarrely violent, tonally schizoid, senses-pummeling two-and-a-half-hour takedown called The Lone Ranger, that’s what.
It’s as if the makers of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies—star Johnny Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio—had deliberately and gleefully fired a silver bullet into the heart of an iconic American franchise that began as a radio adventure serial in 1933 and extended to TV and movies. They may have succeeded.
The movie is told in a series of Little Big Man–style flashbacks to the 1850s, muttered by an elderly, latex-laden Tonto played by producer-star Depp, who may want to walk back his assertions that he, as part Cherokee himself, would play in a more respectful, less clichéd way the faithful, resourceful and resilient sidekick of the hero. Although the movie starts off elegantly and epically, Depp muscles his way into dominating the whole affair. Now, that would be sort of okay if he were delivering a performance that didn’t rely on his patented quirk: widening his eyes, flaring his nostrils and muttering. But it’s one long, desperately unfunny in-joke of a performance, with a cartoonish, self-amused Depp seeming almost entirely on his own surreal wavelength, coming out of his haze only so that his character can be completely disdainful of Armie Hammer’s idealistic, pacifist young lawyer turned masked do-gooder.
Wait, these guys are supposed to be helpmates, an unlikely pair of heroes who stand shoulder to shoulder to right wrongs and buck each other up when times get rough. When’s the last time we saw a buddy movie in which a sidekick deliberately drags his partner’s head through horse dung? Worse, when’s the last time we saw a heroic adventure movie in which the makers continually mock, ridicule and disgrace their own hero? Even the villainy is off kilter, what with a bad guy who cannibalizes his victims and a mincing transvestite stooge. The movie’s makers can’t stop squandering the epic production values and promising premise by battering us with epic, repetitive action sequences and coarse, moronic humor: “What’s with the mask?” characters keep asking of the hero. By the time the makers of The Lone Ranger condescend to give the audience an actual, you know, Lone Ranger sequence involving galloping horses, people in jeopardy, two racing locomotives, all underscored by Gioachino Rossini’s thundering William Tell Overture, it’s way too late.
For the record, Tom Wilkinson attempts to bring some dignity and restraint to this farrago, too, while Helena Bonham Carter, more in the spirit of the thing, mutters and camps, Tim Burton–style, as a whorehouse madam with an explosive, scrimshaw artificial limb. The Lone Ranger is so craven and terrible that—with a final price tag of $250 million and another $150 million spent on worldwide marketing and distribution—surely sequels must be in the planning stages already. Hi-Yo, Silver! Oy vey!